Big Sur Land Will Be Returned to Esselen Tribe After Two Centuries

The Little Sur River runs through it. A parcel of 1,200 acres of classic Big Sur scenery: Redwoods, oak, chaparral, sage, and the sharp edges of the Coastal Range. It’s called Adler Ranch, and, after 250 years, it’s being returned to the Indigenous Esselen Tribe that once called it home, before the missions came.

With help from a $4.5 million grant from the California Natural Resources Agency, the property has been purchased and will be transferred to a non-profit run by the Esselen Tribe of Monterey County.

“We are back after a 250-year absence – because in 1770 our people were taken to the missions,” Tom Little Bear Nason, chairman of the Esselen Tribe of Monterey County, said to the Monterey County Weekly. “Now we are back home. We plan on keeping this land forever.”

The Esselen will make the land available to other tribes pushed out of the Big Sur area, including the Ohlone, the Amah Mutsun, and the Rumsen. They plan to build ceremonial structures in view of Pixchi, a prominent peak in the area central to the tribe’s creation stories.

“The Little Sur River is a big deal for steelhead, and the property is a big deal for condor reintroduction and redwoods,” said Sue Doroff, president of the Western Rivers Conservancy. “The property is spectacular, and on top of that it repatriates land to a tribe that has had a really hard go of it over the years. To be a part of helping a tribe regain its homeland is great.”

“Getting this land back gives privacy to do our ceremonies,” Nason said. “It gives us space and the ability to continue our culture without further interruption. This is forever, and in perpetuity, that we can hold on to our culture and our values.”

Photo: Thomas Ciszewski

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